Awarded Songwriter Jessi Alexander Paints A Colorful Tennessee Picture With ‘Decatur County Red’

Jessi Alexander. Photo: Kristin Barlowe

Talented and lauded Nashville songstress Jessi Alexander released one of the most purely country albums of the year today (March 27), which is exactly what she set out to do when she fell into making a record two years ago.

With well-earned songwriting expertise and a rich country sound, Decatur County Red offers Alexander exploring all forms of herself: as a mother, a lover, a Southerner and a respected music-maker. The sound of the record reveals an artist influenced by Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette on “Mama Drank,” Charlie Daniels Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd on “Decatur County Red,” Hank Williams Jr. on “My Problem Is You,” and even Etta James and Otis Redding on “Lonely Out Of Me.”

It’s a landscape of sounds from Memphis, through Decatur County, to Nashville, Tennessee, inspired by a cabin she inherited from her late-grandmother as her muse.

“Those vinyl records are kind of like the template, the ground zero for all the songs,” Alexander tells MusicRow of her influences. “When I’m writing for other artists, I’m trying to craft a song that is well-crafted, it’s a hit, it could be commercial, it could fit a lot of places. Whereas for this, I got to dig deep into, really, my own influences and just no holds barred. Nothing was off limits and it was so liberating.”

With songs including Lee Brice’s “I Drive Your Truck,” Blake Shelton’s “Drink On It” and “Mine Would Be You,” and Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” under her belt, the talented tunesmith has become one of Nashville’s most beloved singer-songwriters. Decatur County Red is Alexander’s first since 2014’s Down Home.

Alexander co-produced the album with her husband, Grammy-nominated musician/producer/songwriter Jon Randall Stewart and Leslie Richter (Sheryl Crow, Wynonna, John Hiatt, Jim Lauderdale).

“I really wanted the sound of it to be that timeless vintage throw back and [Leslie], her work with Ben Folds and her reputation of really knowing how to make things sound raw,” Alexander says. “I knew that she was my girl when she was trying to get the microphone set up in the tracking sessions so that I could get live vocals. That’s something people don’t do anymore. It’s ambitious and I know that the vocals aren’t perfect. There’s definitely tuning and phrasing issues and things, but I wanted it to sound like an old record. She was kind of of the same mindset and we just had so much fun. I had fun just having a woman in there with me. It was a blast.”

One of the most fun tracks on the record comes with a jaunty duet called “Country Music Made Me Do It” with Randy Houser.

“I thought I need to get somebody in here to just get rowdy with, and literally the first person that came to mind, one of the most honky-tonk, country blues singer I could think of was Randy Houser,” Alexander says.

In true Nashville fashion, Alexander texted Houser while she was putting the finishing touches on the record and asked if he would sing on the tune. His response: “When and where?”


Two of the eight tracks on Decatur County Red have had another life. Tim McGraw cut and made “Damn Country Music” the title track of his 14th studio album in 2015. Dierks Bentley closed his 2018 album The Mountain with Alexander’s “How I’m Going Out,” a song inspired by the carousel that Music City is, and how people get off.

“I feel like getting to the place that I’m in my career where, oh gosh, I’ve seen it all,” Alexander says. “I’ve seen the new kid in town turn to the hottest new thing, turned to a has been, turned to where he has reinvented himself. I’ve had to learn those lessons and watch those trends and it’s given me a lot to write about. I’ve watched some of my heroes become faded into our backdrop, people that when I moved to town were like the hottest songwriter. I’ve watched new songwriters come to town and not even know who they are. It’s kind of that carousel, that’s why we use that image of people just jumping on and jumping off.

“It really started to resonate for me when our dear friend Andrew Dorff passed away and it was like, gosh, you never know. You don’t know when your time is up, physically, or just when it’s time to put your guitar down and you’re done. Not to say you’re ever done—I think I’ll be writing songs forever—but when you’re done with the chase.”

Alexander is first to admit that releasing her first album in six years in the thick of a global pandemic was not how she had planned to celebrate the album, but that she hopes it resonates in a way that gives people an escape.

“I’ve written music for inspiration, have written music for hope,” Alexander says. “For this record, I just hope it transports you to either your roots, your ground zero, your home, or I hope it transports you to a place where you have no cares. Maybe your favorite dive bar, your favorite on honkytonk, or maybe your favorite back porch.”

The mother of three also knows that “Mama Drank,” a witty tune about Alexander finding out why her mother drank when it was her turn to have children, is really resonating now that children are home from school.

Decatur County Red is available now on all platforms, and Alexander is celebrating its release with a livestream acoustic performance at 5 p.m. CT on Airstream’s Facebook and Instagram, and another livestream on her on Instagram at 8 p.m. CT for “Stories, Wine and Damn Country Music.”


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About the Author

LB Cantrell is Project Manager at MusicRow magazine. She heads up specific, large-scale projects for the company and assists in day-to-day tasks. LB also manages the MusicRow Top Songwriter Chart and contributes editorial for both the print and online platforms. She joined MusicRow full time in January of 2019, after interning and working part time for the company for a year. She is from Blairsville, Georgia and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a Music Business degree in 2018.

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